Regular at-home physical exams can help you learn what is normal for your pet’s body, and therefore allow you to detect when something is not normal.
While it’s still important to take your pet for a professional exam at your vet’s office at least once a year, you can keep watch on your pet’s health in between visits by getting to know what’s normal, and what’s not, for your individual pet.
Steps for Performing an At-Home Pet Exam
Perform the exam in a relaxed environment when your pet is not stressed or excited, or after an exercise session or nap (when they’re likely to be sleepy and ready to relax). Put them on your lap, start with the tip of their nose, and work your way to the tip of their tail.
First check the nose for debris and take note of whether it is wet or dry. Your pet’s nose will not always be wet, it will typically vary from moist to dry throughout the day, depending on your pet’s body temperature, activity level and hydration.
Then, take a look to see whether there is abnormal eye discharge. Again, you will likely know what is normal for your pet. For instance if your cat or dog never gets eye discharge and suddenly has it, it’s a sign that there could be a problem.
Next check whether your pet’s pupils are symmetrical and look at the whites of their eyes. Red sclera (the part of the eye that is normally white) could mean inflammation of the eyes.
If your pet is not accustomed to having its mouth examined, slowly acclimate your pet to facial massages so that you can eventually check their mouth, gums and teeth. When you can, check inside their mouth for lesions, swelling, and bad breath. Their gums should be pink, their teeth free of tartar and plaque, their tongue clear and the roof of their mouth clean and free from debris.
Next, check the jaw line to see if it feels normal. Check the ears for debris, odor and cleanliness. Brush back the hair and look at the skin and coat. Check for excessive flakiness, lumps and bumps on the sides of the spinal cord, and evaluate muscle tone and weight. If you feel your pet is carrying extra weight I recommend addressing it by increasing activity and feeding a species-appropriate diet (a meat-based, carb-free living food diet).
Look at their claws and the pads of their feet, there should be no debris between their toes. Check for heat and swelling over your pet’s body, and test the range of motion of the joints; do the joints move freely, without resistance or difficulty?
Gently Palpate their belly to look for lumps and notice if your pet seems to experience discomfort. This is a good time to also gently check both mammary chains (do this for male dogs, too). Even if you don’t know the names of all the parts you are touching, if you examine your pet regularly you will begin to know what is normal for your companion. When there are changes you will notice them quite quickly because you are familiar with the terrain of his or her body. Also examine your pet’s bottom for cleanliness.
Start a Body Chart for Your Pet
If you notice an unusual lump, bump, wart or so on during your home exam and you don’t think it warrants immediate attention, it’s a good idea to start a body chart for your pet.
Simply draw a simple diagram of your pet’s body and note whatever you’ve found in the appropriate place on the picture. Be sure to include exactly where it was found, when you found it, how big it is and whether you’ve noticed it getting worse.
If you notice a lump that has gotten worse a day or two later, that warrants a trip to your vet.
Remember, in order for you to know what’s abnormal about your pet you first need to know what’s normal. Performing regular at-home exams is a simple and very effective way for you to keep a close eye on your pet’s health.